We are thrilled that our Leicester pilot of the Arts Backpack UK has been selected for the Aviva Community Fund. This is a crowdfunding campaign with a difference – alongside your donations, Aviva employees will be allotted company money to donate to causes of their choosing! Please help us reach our target by donating and sharing with any Aviva employees you may know: https://www.avivacommunityfund.co.uk/the-arts-backpack-uk
Our main partner for this pilot is The Spark Arts for Children, who have been delivering arts education across Leicester as part of the City Classroom since 2016. The pilot has community at its heart – promoting the work of local venues and helping them to reconnect with the children, families and schools that they serve. We want to show children the world outside their front door – a world that has been closed for almost a year now!
Throughout the pilot we want to explore:
the effects of creative activities on building resilience in primary-school age children;
how we can use creative learning to give children the language to reflect on and respond to experiences of the last year;
how best to support teachers in delivering a creative curriculum;
the value of connecting local schools to their local arts organisations – finding local, culturally relevant and relatable solutions to local problems.
Our funding target is £2,500, with a stretch target of £5,000 which will enable us to evaluate in even greater depth. Whether it’s £1 or £100, please give what you can to help us bring the Arts Backpack UK to Leicester in 2021: https://www.avivacommunityfund.co.uk/the-arts-backpack-uk
A statement from Action for Children's Arts for Children's Mental Health Week
Children are at the heart of our charity. We wish that society and politicians would do the same, and put children first.
The current mental health of our children is a huge concern. Prior to lockdown, one in six children had a probable mental problem.1 Who knows how this figure will have escalated when we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.
We cannot provide answers but we can reach out to all the parents and carers who are doing their best to help their children cope with adversity and adapt to change. Please know that we respect and admire you.
We urge politicians to accept that alongside the learning deficit, it is important to allow our children to catch up with the fun deficit. Extra work and no play will not make children clever. Education and health are closely linked – pupils with better health and wellbeing are likely to achieve better academically.2
We must find ways to keep children socialising safely, to enable them to let off steam and have adventures with their peers.
The arts have an important part to play in every child’s life. Dance improves their physical health and self-esteem, drama improves social skills, learning an instrument helps them to cope with stress, and creating visual art helps them to develop a sense of identity and increases resilience.3 These are all vital skills that our children need post-pandemic.
We will be exploring how the arts can play their part in the recovery curriculum as part of Arts Backpack UK pilots. We hope that the government will follow our example and give every child the creative nourishment they deserve.
Let the arts into their lives, to help to heal us all.
Vicky Ireland MBE FRSA, Chair of Action for Children’s Arts
The year got off to a wonderfully normal start with Members’ drinks at SAMA Bankside. We were delighted to be joined by ACA Patron Michael Foreman, who together with our President David Wood OBE gave a fitting tribute to our much-loved and much-missed Patron Terry Jones, who passed away on the 21st of January. We were also able to raise a glass to ACA Patron Baroness Floella Benjamin, made a Dame in the New Years’ Honours.
We received the first instalment of Arts Backpack UK funding from Fife Council.
The pandemic struck, and the world changed overnight. We started sharing a weekly round-up of creative activities for people who were home-schooling; as well as a list of emergency funding resources for our practitioner members.
April – May 2020
We started crowdfunding to support the children’s arts community. Thanks to the generosity of members, patrons and friends of ACA, we raised an amazing £4,000!
We distributed our crowdfunding efforts to twelve individuals and small organisations who were in desperate need of help. You can find out more about the Covid-19 fund recipients here: Children’s Arts Covid-19 fund: recipients
“The award has given us a lifeline. Thank you again to everyone at Action for Children’s Arts. We hope to see you again soon when we can all meet up and celebrate but, meanwhile, we will continue to push for children’s arts to be central to the recovery from this dreadful pandemic.” – Teach it through Drama
We sponsored ACA Development Officer Mimi Doulton to join the Freelance TaskForce. Mimi worked closely with the Theatre for Young Audiences, Musicians in Theatre, and Early-Career Practitioners groups, trying to enact positive change in our industry.
We would like to say huge thank you to Peter McKintosh, Theatre Designer for his very generous donation to ACA, from the sale of his artwork during June and July. His wonderfully kind gesture will help to ensure the charity’s survival and underpin our current and future endeavours.
ACA launched a bursary membership scheme, sponsored by kind individuals who had bought a birthday candle in our twentieth birthday year. You can meet our first five bursary members here: ACA welcomes five bursary members. If you know someone who would benefit from a year’s free membership of ACA, please get in touch!
August – September 2020
We held four Zooms with ACA Members, exploring the following topics.
The Future of Working in Schools
Embedding Diversity into your Working Practice
Developing your Online Outreach
Gender and sexuality issues in our work creating arts for and with children
Thank you to our wonderful speakers, and to the more than 70 members who took part in these sessions. You can read the notes and recommendations from these sessions on the ACA website. Click here to read the notes.
We also sadly bid farewell to another ACA patron, the inspirational Professor Sir Ken Robinson. He is deeply missed by us all.
Our Trustee Susan Whiddington received a CBE for her work with children and families at Mousetrap Theatre Projects! Congratulations Susan.
We also shared the launch of the ASSITEJ International Manifesto, based on ACA’s Children’s Arts Manifesto. This manifesto will raise awareness of children’s needs and rights to their own arts and culture, as is set out in UN Article 31. It is part of a global initiative to raise awareness of the importance of the arts in the lives of children and to draw attention to the fact that in so many countries, arts for children are not on any political agenda.
November was a pretty big month! We were so excited to award the 2020 JM Barrie Award to ACA Patron Anna Home OBE, and incredibly grateful to everyone at the BBC and Dock10 for their help in producing our first online awards. You can still watch the ceremony on YouTube, just click play on the video:
November also saw the long-awaited launch of our first Arts Backpack UK pilot in Fife, Scotland! We are looking forward to working with six primary school classes for the next four months, introducing them to a range of quality cultural experiences online. You can find a full history of the Arts Backpack, along with monthly updates here: The Arts Backpack UK
Our thanks to Fife Council and the Haberdashers’ Company for funding this pilot.
In December, we were so honoured to announce Kate Robinson as a new patron of ACA. “I am absolutely delighted to be a patron of Action for Children’s Arts. The work of ACA was so dear to my Dad’s heart, it is a privilege to be able to continue it.”
Last but not least, we had a wonderful festive celebration with some of you on Zoom! Thank you to everyone who took the time to pop in and say hello.
Until next year…
PS! We couldn’t have done any of this without the support of our wonderful members. If you are in a position to do so, please click here and join today.
We are delighted to announce that the Arts Backpack UK began its first pilot in six Fife primary schools at the beginning of November. We are looking forward to working with around 200 students and teachers at: Cowdenbeath Primary School, Kelty Primary School, Benarty Primary School, Hill of Beath Primary School, Cardenden Primary School and Fulford Primary School.
Over the next four months, classes will be able to select activities to go into their Backpacks from our directory of online resources. This includes activities from ACA Members Theatre Alibi and Magic Lantern; Scottish arts organisations Imaginate and Scottish Opera; and national and international institutions such as Google Arts and Culture. In addition to this, each class will have the opportunity to commission a piece of online content from one of our partners in Scotland.
Everyone at ACA is so proud to be pushing ahead with this first pilot, despite the challenges presented to us by Covid-19. Although the pandemic has limited our possibilities to work face-to-face, it has truly widened the horizons of what arts and culture are available for children to experience online. We look forward to sharing these experiences with our students in Fife over the next four months.
We are delighted to share with you the ASSITEJ International Manifesto, based on ACA’s Children’s Arts Manifesto. This manifesto will raise awareness of children’s needs and rights to their own arts and culture, as is set out in UN Article 31. This is part of a global initiative to raise awareness of the importance of the arts in the lives of children and to draw attention to the fact that in so many countries, arts for children are not on any political agenda.
Whilst they are on the UK's agenda, they are relatively low priority, and often drowned out by the clamour for adult arts. We need to raise the profile of children's arts and back the Manifesto, calling for a universal investment in children’s participation in cultural activity.
- Vicky Ireland MBE, Chair of Action for Children's Arts
We were pleased to read that the government has retracted plans to encourage removing non-core subjects from the curriculum for the majority of children in September. Instead, they are now encouraging a broad curriculum that embraces sciences, humanities, the arts, physical education/sport, religious education and relationships and health education.
However, guidance is still in place that for students in exceptional circumstances, these subjects could be suspended until summer 2021 – on agreement with parents. Action for Children’s Arts (ACA) would like to emphasise that even for children who are perceived to be behind in their academic attainment, creative outlets will be key to their mental and emotional recovery from this crisis. Whilst we understand that schools are under pressure to meet the government’s academic attainment targets, we urge them to prioritise children’s well-being.
ACA Chair Vicky Ireland said,
‘I personally feel there should be more awareness, that it’s not back to business as usual. Covid-19 has been damaging and we need to heal. We need to acknowledge there is a special and urgent need to prioritise children, their well-being and mental health. What measures are being put in place to listen, help and heal?’
In addition to this, we are concerned by the continued advice against group singing and music-making, before sufficient evidence has been produced around its dangers. Choral singing has been proven to enhance children’s brain development, widen their cultural horizons, and give them a sense of belonging. After this prolonged period of isolation, we believe that fostering this sense of belonging must be maintained as a crucial part of every child’s education.
Finally, we still await guidance on working in schools for visiting creative practitioners. We hope that the government will produce this before the end of the summer term, so that the many freelancers and small companies who depend on this work can start planning for a return to business in the autumn.
ACA response: tests for four-year-olds in English and Maths
Action for Children's Arts (ACA) notes with concern the statement from Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary on Monday 22nd June that the much-criticised and unproven tests in English and Maths for four year olds are still to go ahead. At a time when all sectors of society - and across the political spectrum - have acknowledged the great threat to mental health and wellbeing caused by Covid-19 isolation, it is vital that our priority as a nation should be meeting the need for stability, sociability and communication. These are key factors that must be in place before young children can learn, and they should be our priorities now. Working together, socialising, creating in small and larger groups; all are vital steps back from the situation in which we now find ourselves. We call for the immediate abandonment of these tests and an urgent re-ordering of priorities to help all our children, especially the youngest, to create, communicate and learn.
Whilst we acknowledge there is now a gap in the English education timescale for Nursery and Primary-school children, we urge that the “knowledge deficit” does not lead to undue pressure upon the children, or the removal of arts and creativity in their school lives in order to “catch-up”. Cramming does not work with this age-range. They will catch up far more quickly if they have the arts and creativity in their lives to provide an escape from mental and emotional strain.
We must be extra careful of our children’s mental and physical well-being. They have never needed the time to create, imagine and play within the school environment more.
We are proud to have sponsored our Development Officer, Mimi Doulton to become a part of the Freelance TaskForce.
The TaskForce was set up by Fuel Theatre following their Open Letter to Theatre and Performance Makers, which ACA signed. The aim of the TaskForce is to give freelancers paid time to work together in June, July and August, campaigning for government support and positive change in the industry. Over 130 organisations have agreed to sponsor a TaskForce member. Each member will act independently of their sponsor organisation.
We asked Mimi how she felt about joining the TaskForce:
"I am thrilled to be joining the Freelance TaskForce at this time of change in the performing arts industries. I hope that it will galvanise the disparate voices of self-employed theatre professionals across the UK to campaign for better government support at this challenging time. I am also excited to be part of a virtual room full of brilliant minds who can envision a better and fairer future for the industry."
We look forward to following the progress of the TaskForce and will keep ACA members updated!
We had a great time with members, Trustees, Patrons, Critical Friends and other industry professionals at our New Years' Drinks, hosted by SAMA Bankside!
The Arts Backpack UK - February Update
Pilots are on schedule to commence in Fife and Leicester from September 2020. We will be working with 7 schools in Fife, in partnership with Youth Music Theatre Scotland; and 4 schools in Leicester, in partnership with Spark Arts.
Planning is underway for a London pilot later in the 2020/21 academic year, in partnership with For Good, the charity associated with Wicked.
We have received over 200 responses to our children's survey, which was issued via First News in January. Our researchers Keda and Yasemin will be compiling this data to inform their research and evaluation processes.
We have received the first instalment of funding from Fife Council.
Congratulations to our patron Floella on becoming a Dame!
It was with great sadness that we heard of the death of our much loved patron, Terry Jones, an exceptional writer, and a unique creative spirit.
Vicky attended the Writer’s Guild GB Awards, and the Writer’s Guild GB Olwen Wymark Theatre Encouragement Awards 2020.
A group of TYA Theatre makers attended a meeting with representatives from Action for Children’s Arts, Theatre Education Forum, Theatre for Young Audiences England and Assitej UK with Anne Applebaum, Director of Children and Young People, Arts Council England. You can find full notes of this meeting below.